Lacrime d’Alba walk
Sometimes art requires that you do strange things.
On a recent project with Dr Gaie Burnet, about a lost predella of Simone Martini,
I was given the opportunity to try on women’s skirts in the name of art. This was not out of some sexually repressed need to dress as a woman, after all, I’m British and this comes as second nature to us. However it was necessary for me to capture the likeness of medieval peasants for the panel.
It did come as a surprise to my wife, when I walked into the sitting room to ask her a question, wearing one of her skirts, I did explain it was for artistic integrity. Bags, walking sticks, a dressing gown for a flying monk’s habit, hats and belts all helped in creating the right look for the drawings.
My dogs were somewhat concerned by my behaviour as I darted around, changing clothes and then setting the camera to timed, running across the kitchen to strike a pose. Only to repeat the chaotic process two seconds later. For them balancing, prone on a stool, to imitate the flying saint was the final act of a madman.
Martini in Siena
In this way and with the absence of my own willing peasant I managed to create a series of pictures that were used in drawing the missing panels from Beato Augustino’s altarpiece, which is now on display in the Palazzo Siena (check). The exercise was an illustration for Dr Burnet’s own work on the painting and how it may have been used for religious instruction and as a way of establishing the Augustinian Order during a time of great change.
Both Dr Burnet and myself found the process of working together an interesting one and exploring Martini’s works at Assisi and Siena was a wonderful experience. It was fun to see how these great works were not just pretty frescoes illustrating the lives of the saints, bishops and Christ but were being used for political propaganda, very much like today’s elaborate electioneering boards proclaiming one belief over another.
Dissecting the message
While I was able to bring my knowledge of painting, colour and design to the project, for me, it was fascinating to hear the political and religious history around the time the artist was working and discover the messages his patrons were most likely trying to convey. What, on the surface of things, appear to be simple depictions of people are quite often more complex, with much of the true meaning being forgotten over time.
I would thoroughly recommend artists and academics working together on projects like this, as both stand to gain a lot more than they realise about the process of making art. Both from a practical perspective of painting and design but also in terms of understanding what clients were trying to get across when commissioning these great works.
Painting the borgo
Borgo Santa Giuliana is so unique, I never get tired of painting this little Medieval walled village. And when Janet and Jed told me they’d like a painting of the place I jumped at the chance to get inside the walls.
This is truly an example of how you properly create a gated community. Siege engines struggled to get into this compact village, which consists of some twelve dwellings. In the end the attackers gave up and picked on someone less well prepared instead.
Visiting Santa Giuliana
On a sunny Sunday afternoon I finally got to see what I’d been drawing and painting from afar. It’s a magical spot, fascinating architecture, narrow sunken alleyways, a church and all around breathtaking views of the Umbrian landscape.
Until now I’d not managed to get a close up view of the gatehouse and its portcullis. So armed with sketches and photos of the main entrance and the fact that you can see Janet and Jed’s house from this angle, this is the view I’m painting this time around.
Also, just like Citerna in the Valtiberina painting, I’ve decided to create an undisturbed view of the curtain wall and its buildings by raising and lowering the treeline to give a nice, open view but retaining the feel of the surrounding vegetation. Lets get started then. …
Painting the sky for the Niccone Valley study I decided I wanted a nice summer one. Lots of celesta blue, blazing yellow sun and a few fluffy white clouds. As the image is to be used for the Lisciano Niccone commune promotions I felt it should have a bright, cheerful feel.
I was looking through Piero Perugino’s back catalogue of work and came across a wonderful way he painted his clouds, waves of blues overlaying each other. So in honour of the great man I’m going to use this form for the clouds.
Yesterday was a beautifully clear day with the odd cloud in sight, unlike the storms of the previous days. These were the perfect copy of Perugino’s clouds and gave us a gorgeous Renaissance sky in the late afternoon.
The sun, which as it sets, is technically a Tuscan sun, will be a shining star in the top right, echoing the Pinturicchioesque tree in the bottom right. Both will be bold circular shapes and have touches of yellow to make them stand out.
I’ve tackled Citta di Castello’s walls on a couple of occasions but this time I fancied painting a long section of the ancient defences. Previously, the works concentrated on the area around the Duomo but with the encouragement of Pamella, I decided to depict the whole of the west wall.
German woodcuts of the 15th century have always appealed to me, I love the way they big up the height and importance of their fortresses as if to deter invasion through art. So I thought Castello’s walI should be formidable and prominent in the picture.
This poses a couple of problems, firstly there are a number of buildings opposite the wall, secondly there are lots of trees obscuring the view. So the way around it is to use the Medieval process of painting unimportant things to a smaller scale, therefore the buildings are tiny in comparison.
The trees likewise needed trimming, as there are great clusters of cropped firs, a stand of palm trees, some shaped garden trees and a lot of empty deciduous trunks. The best way to take on the trees was to paint one of each group and make them fit around the wall, either painting them taller and thinner or drawing them small and squat. Problem solved.
Google Earth – Useless
Next comes the structures behind the wall. With all this foliage, stones and concrete it’s impossible to see what it looks like over the edge. Even driving up into the hills a mile away proved ineffectual. Google Earth was no use as the Google car stupidly decided to drive out on a foggy day when nothing was visible.
The solution to this one was a stroll around the streets drawing the buildings from ground level and imagining them from another view point. I was also lucky to be teaching at the Unicredit Bank, where I discovered they have a marvellous reproduction of a sixteenth century map of Castello. This gave me additional ideas for the buildings around the wall.
The background always sets the theme with the sky providing the drama. Citta di Castello should never be without the beautiful Belvedere Monastery nestled in its wooded slopes. I plan on having the Apennine Mountains on the horizon and some farms, villas and maybe the Cyprus filled cemetery on the edge of town.
As spring is in the air I think a nice blue sky with a blazing sun and the odd fluffy white cloud scattered about. This should set the tone for future paintings as we leave the leaden skies of winter behind. It will mean that there is less distraction from the busy streets of Castello below. Hey, let’s see how it turns out.